HOW TO DO THINGS WITH TEARS
"Hey kid! Sex and the death of men bring tourists from near and far." So opens "Thunderstruck," one of many poems from Grossman's ninth and perhaps most personal volume of verse that relies on vaulting power, elaborate knowledge and immediate pathos. Long a noted poet (The Ether Dome) and literary critic (The Sighted Singer), the MacArthur-granted Grossman combines philosophical sophistication, biblical and Judaic learning and a self-chastising, semi-Miltonic ambition in poems and sets of poems that try to tie spiritual striving to quirky, everyday observation. A "bloody animal" and an absent God explore "The weirdest structure/ known: Town Hall, Enigma, MN," while another poem demands: "O my particular student, where is your heart?" Many of Grossman's new poems focus on companionship, travel and loneliness. One series tells the (hard to follow) story of an allegorical sailor. A longer, more successful sequence consuming about a third of the book follows "Irene" (apparently the poet's Minnesotan mother) on a journey to Minneapolis: along the way "Wallace Stevens entertains a sex worker," "The first name of the new poet can/ be seen/ through the erasure," and a "chained dog" decides not to "cease howling,/ Christmas or any other day, as if there was a God,/ whose only prophet was this desolate animal." Playing on a famous work of "ordinary language" philosophy (J.L. Austin's How to Do Things with Words), Grossman's title insists that poems are a way in which real persons share feeling and pain. Most of those sentiments reamain artificial here (in the best, poetic sense of the word)—as well as allusive, demanding and elaborate. (Apr. 26)
Forecast:Grossman has a solid following among the many students who have passed through Johns Hopkins (where he is Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Humanities) and in the po-biz in general. Since it is his first new collection since 1995, that market has hardly been saturated.